By Collins G. Burnham
The settlement of this far city on the "river of elms,"--whence its name,--dates back into the seventeenth century. It is connected with that of Springfield, of whose territory Chicopee was a part for over two hundred years. If less quick to sever home ties than other daughters of Springfield, this one had attained greater maturity and was better equipped than the others to set up an independent establishment.
The early doings of this child are somewhat indistinct in the family records. When and where was the first settlement within our limits? Who first ventured away from the protection of the fortified houses at Springfield to brave the perils of a more exposed region? There were two points of early settlement, one at "Skeepmuch" and the other at "Chikkuppy river's mouth," both on the south side of the river. Dr. Holland, in his History of Western Massachusetts, writes: "The first settlement of its territory occurred very early, on what is known as Chicopee street, probably within four years from the date of the first settlement at Springfield in 1636." The Chicopee street section, including the islands in the river and extending "up the great river northward to the brook called Wullamansep," was granted, in 1654, to John Pynchon, "for a farme," and a committee was appointed by the town to view "the farme" and report its boundaries. The early records of land grants, as far as they are preserved, hardly substantiate the claim of such an early settlement of Chicopee as 1640 or 1641. It is some years later than Dr. Holland's supposed date that the records begin to give evidence of land grants for "home lotts" in Chicopee.
At the Skipmuck point of settlement, above Chicopee Falls, Symon Beamon received an allotment of land in 1656, "provided he remaine in town 5 years," a provision frequently made in connection with land grants. He remained, and in 1661 a home lot was given him. John Pynchon, who seemed to own land about everywhere in the valley, had a grant of a farm with Mr. Holyoke, "betwixt ym" at Skipmuck. James Warringer, Jeremy Horton, Abel Wright, John Crowfoot, Nathaniel Ely and Daniel Cooley are some of the names appearing earliest in connection with various parts of Chicopee. Rowland Thomas received a grant of land on the south side of the river in 1659, and built upon it. The town bestowed land upon Henry Chapin adjoining Thomas' land in 1660, and "liberty is granted to build on his land" at a town meeting the next year. Japhet Chapin lived at the head of Chicopee street. The cellar hole of his house existed in the younger days of some who now live on that street. The first location of the Chapin brothers was on the south side of the river. Under date of January 5, 1665, is the following: "Japhet Chapin hath granted to him by ye Plantation to him & his Heirs and Assigns forever four acres of land adjoining to that Lot his House stood on formerly on this Side or South side of Chickobee River." Two deeds given in June, 1679, now on record at Springfield, of property on the south side of the river, make mention of Japhet Chapin's house as a boundary. Henry Chapin's house "stood by a little brook" on the south side of the river, near, it is supposed, the junction of Exchange and West streets.
These brothers were the sons of Deacon Samuel Chapin of Springfield, who is the progenitor of this family in America, a friend of the Pynchons, father and son, a deacon of the First Church, a man of high character; the fine statue, modeled by St. Gaudens, erected to his memory in Springfield, is a deserved tribute to a worthy and distinguished pioneer. He is the grandfather of Chicopee, for whatever doubt may exist as to whom belongs the credit of first settling our town there is no question that the Chapins populated it. Japhet and Henry Chapin were the fathers of eight sons who grew to manhood. Japhet's grandchildren numbered sixty-five, and Henry's twenty-three. Sons predominated in these patriarchal families. Many of these grandchildren settled in Chicopee; but as the genealogist of the family says, "The spirit of emigration seized early upon the descendants of Japhet and Henry. But mind ye, they did not emigrate to the state of New York, nor to the rich lands of the then unknown West, but they went as far as Wilbraham, Ludlow, South Hadley, Granby, and one grandson of Deacon Samuel Chapin ventured as far as Cold Spring, now Belchertown." Notwithstanding this drain upon the family by emigration to adjoining towns, the Chapin name became a conspicuous one in all lists and catalogues in Springfield and Chicopee. The Chapin family and those related to them comprised for a long time about the entire population of the present territory of our city.
Relics of the Indians are found here. They planted in the meadows and fished in the river. One of the Indian wading places across the Chicopee was the ford by which Chicopee street people crossed the river until the first bridge was completed in 1783, with funds raised in part by a lottery. The settlers sometimes came into conflict with the red men. Japhet Chapin was in the fight at Turner's Falls. There was written on an old account book of his, now lost, these words: "I went out Volunteare against ingens the 17th of May, 1676, and we ingaged batel the 19th of May in the morning about sunrise and made great spoil upon the enemy and came off the same day with the los of 37 men and Captin Turner, and came home the 20th of May."
The fear of the Indians was upon the settlers. When Hannah Chapin was making a dress before her marriage to John Sheldon, Jr., of Deerfield, her mother advised her to make it strong enough to wear into captivity; but whether or not she thought to put it on before she leaped from her chamber window with her husband while the war whoop was waking deerfield, records do not tell. She was taken to Canada and was redeemed by the elder John Sheldon, who made various journeys thither to recover captives. The house of Lieut. Wright at Skipmuck was attacked and several persons killed in the summer of 1708. In a diary kept by Deacon Edward Chapin of Chicopee is frequent mention of encounters between the settlers and the Indians, and evidence of the fear that the enemy would break through the frontiers and descend upon this part of the valley. He wrote one day in May, 1747: "This day I was called upon to bear arms, there being a great alarm. husoock was beset by Indians on Monday last." A later entry: "About this time the scalpers come in, having been out about a month." A house that stood just north of the present church on Chicopee street, as some recall who have seen it, had its door thickly studded with nails to give it greater resistance to Indian hatchets.
A minor feature of early life was slavery. The first slave in town was, perhaps, Roco. We learn this because Colonel Pynchon desired a grant of more land at Skipmuck, where, we read, "he is settling Roco, his negro." The earliest list of the First Church, 1753, bears the name Pompe. It is a tax list for church expenses, and Pompe, like his master, is taxed a six-pence. Recently a catalogue of thirty abolition books, an annex to the Sunday School library, has come to light, and we know what strong abolition doctrine was taught in 1839. Some years later some Chicopee citizens purchased the freedom of a fugitive slave who was living in town, that his master might not claim him again.
The relation of church and state in early New England makes the formation of a parish an important event in our history. The people north of the river were the ones most interested in the movement for a parish. There was no bridge across the Chicopee river, and the journey to church was a hard one. They felt able also to settle a minister among themselves. The Springfield parish, interested in building a new meeting house, objected to any separation. In their petition to the General Court, Chicopee people esteem it "extreeme hard" that their fellow parishioners should make so much opposition. "We cannot think our Selves justly treated by them when they take so much pains to keep us under Such Disadvantages in our Souls Concerns only to save themselves a little worldly interest." Their petition was granted, June 30, 1751; the first parish meeting was held July 30 following, and in September, 1752, the first minister, Rev. John McKinstry, was settled.
The parish bounds extended over the Connecticut, including a part of West Springfield and all of Holyoke. This part of the parish was assessed to settle the minister, but not to build the meeting house. Deacon Chapin, in his diary, gives us a pleasant view of the interest in building the first meeting house. On New Year's day, (1751), the people "with united voices declared for cutting timbers" for it. Two days later, "about 40 men advanced into the woods," and the next day half that number finished cutting the timber. How merrily the axes rang, wielded by those stout arms! Then they wait for snow. Five days pass; then "thers snow eno, O we are very glad;" but when the snow is "almost gone as twere," they are sad. The midwinter month passes and now sledding; but with the new month comes a "week of Comfortable proper winter weather and pretty sledding" and the "Chicopee MH Timber got Home very successfully." On June 5 the record is: "This Day thro ye Indulgence of Heaven we had our Meeting House Raised with great Safety and Joy." Remembering the abundant supply of liquors furnished on such occasions, the entry, "with great Safety," is significant. not all raisings had such happy issue.
The dimensions of this meeting house were 43X33 feet. It stood north of the present meeting house on Chicopee street. Though raised so safely and joyfully, it was not wholly finished until 1765; but it was occupied when the minister came, and to the call of the drum the people assembled and took the seats assigned them by the committee for "seating the meeting house," on the principle that "age be esteemed Equivalent to Four pounds of estate." Our ancestors frowned upon "gold rings," and had no respect to him that weareth gay clothing"; but they did have a code of procedure for seating the meeting house that was not altogether unworldly, or scriptural. The "unseated pew" in this plain house was for "the use of Girls yt are under sixteen years of Age"; and the negro pew was in the gallery.
By means of the parish Chicopee obtained ecclesiastical independence. The next step was municipal independence. For fifty years Chicopee has been walking the paths of the municipal world by herself. A move on the mother's part to form a city establishment aroused the daughter to gain municipal separation. She thought the proposed change would not benefit her, and did not relish an extra tax for a city house while living in the country. So when the mother began to set her cap for a mayor, the daughter decided to live by herself. The act of incorporation was signed by the governor, April 29, 1848.
Chicopee came into the family of towns well equipped. The assessed valuation was $2,476,210.00. The population was 7,861. She had highways, newspapers, schools, churches, well-developed water power turning the wheels of established industries, and, above all, industrious, intelligent, and public-spirited citizens.
City life began with a charter of the usual pattern, but recently we have adopted some new municipal fashions. The first venture in municipal ownership was made in 1892. The legislature had granted authority to purchase the property and privileges of the existing water companies, and to enlarge their capacity by the use of new sources of water supply. The city now owns a system of water supply, including pumping station, standpipes and other necessary equipment, of the estimated value of about $400,000, capable of furnishing 2,800,000 gallons of water daily. The net income of the water department from March 1, 1893, to December 1, 1897, was $32,382.32; that is, the department pays its running expenses and the interest on its bonded debt and has returned the sum named to the treasury of the city. A board of three commissioners has charge of this department, employing a superintendent.
The city embarked in the electric light business in May, 1896. Previous to that date there was, as usual, the purchase of a franchise, formerly granted "without money and without price," for a good round price, and the erection of a new station and its equipment with high-grade apparatus. This property is now valued at $89,543.22, after the five per cent depreciation charge required by state law has been made. The department has had but a brief space in which to show results; but the report of its work for the first full year is promising:
Total income from street lights, $9,650,00; total manufacturing expense of street lights, $9,242.17; total income from incandescent lights, $5,877.92; total manufacturing expense of incandescent lights, $2,892.95; profit on lights, $3,392.14.
The profit on street lights seems small; but we quote from the superintendent's report: "The street lighting system has made a creditable showing, inasmuch as the amount of light furnished has been increased sixty per cent over the amount previously supplied the city, and at a manufacturing cost inside the prices formerly paid by the city." This means to the public that the lamps burn longer nights, and that the almanac is not consulted so frequently to learn if the man in the moon, who formerly possessed great power in extinguishing street lights, is expected to show his face. The service to private houses is in its infancy, but as the demand for this service increases the profits of the light department will grow larger. Chicopee is well satisfied with its experiments in municipal ownership.
Our new charter, which went into operation this year, gives us a mayor and a legislative department, consisting of one alderman from each of the seven wards and ten at large. The mayor, clerk, treasurer, aldermen and school committee are elected by the voters; the auditor, collector and messenger by the alderman; the solicitor, marshal, superintendent of streets, overseers of the poor and water commissioners are appointed by the mayor. The distinctive features of the charter are a single legislative board and the separation of the legislative and administrative departments. No member of the board of aldermen has anything to do with the expenditure of money, or with the appointment or election of any officer who expends money. The mayor has no vote. The principle of minority representation is adopted. Each voter ballots for only three of the five aldermen annually elected.
Chicopee soldiers have been in many campaigns. The early settlers went out "against ingens." They defended their homes at the frontiers. Chicopee men lost their life in the campaign against Louisburg in 1745. In the cemetery on Chicopee street, on Decoration Day, flags wave over the graves of Revolutionary soldiers.
The militia served as a safe means for the gratification of military ardor after peace came; and of more than one olden time citizen it could be said, as of John Gilpin:
"A train-band captain eke was he."
No poet has sung the praises of our militia-men; but of one his biographer writes: "He had quite a military genius, but no opportunity to display it, except in the militia." The Cabot Guards was the military organization of fifty years ago in Chicopee. The name of the first captain, Jones S. Davis, heads the list of those who signed the by-laws of the company. The Guards in their flourishing days mustered about sixty men. They led the usual life of a militia company in times of peace--drilling, attending musters, doing escort duty, arrayed in all the glory of their blue uniforms with the buff trimmings, gilt buttons and gold lace. The company disbanded long ago. An organization of survivors was formed in 1880; but now only four are left of the four score and more who names are on its records. At some funeral of late years one or two of the survivors may have been seen with crape upon the arm and a ribbon on the breast marked: Cabot Guards, Co. F, Tenth Regiment, M. V. M., 1844. The dead and the living were comrades in the days of old lang syne.
Our citizens rendered noble service in the war of the rebellion. Hundreds of men were busy in the shops forging instruments of war, and other hundreds bravely used them on many a battlefield. The Tenth Massachusetts regiment marched away with 38 Chicopee men in its ranks, and the Seventy-seventh with 62 men. The First Massachusetts regiment of cavalry had 57 Chicopee names on its roll, while the Forty-sixth had 105. The town furnished its quota for the call of nine months' men by enlistment. An entire company composed of and officered by Chicopee men went into the first camp of the Thirty-seventh regiment. In the care of the city clerk is a record book of which our citizens may well be proud. It is in the hand-writing chiefly of George D. Robinson, and gives silent testimonial to his diligence and fidelity, and also to the love he bore to those whose service and patriotism he recorded. This manuscript volume contains the names, as far as the compiler could obtain them, of all citizens of Chicopee who served in the army and navy, of those who were assigned to the town by the state, and of non-residents who enlisted as a part of the town's quota. His regiment, the period of his service, a list of the engagements in which he took part and in every case where the necessary information could be gained, a brief sketch also of each man's life, are given. The list contains the names of 529 residents of Chicopee who served in the army, and of 38 who were in the navy, with the name of the ship in which each served. This volume was compiled under the direction of the city. It is a story of camp and march and battle, of hospital and prison, of suffering and death, a glorious record of devotion and heroism, from the war's sad beginning to its end, of our citizens, who left the farm, the store, the loom, the lathe and the forge, to defend the Union.
Two tablets at the entrance of the city hall bear the names of seventy-two soldiers whose lives were given for the life of the nation. The decreasing number of the survivors are gathered into the Otis Chapman G. A. R. Post, a name commemorating a citizen and officer of the town who was active in filling its quota and won the hearts of the boys by his kindly interest in them.
Chicopee is a manufacturing centre. Our seal bears the motto, Industriae Variae. We are a community of skilled workmen. Our rich men have for the most part made their money in the industries that have made our name so widely known. Manufacturing began at the Falls 110 years ago when James Byers and William Smith erected a furnace and made hollow iron ware from ore dug in the vicinity. We are told that "the furnace was considered a work of no small magnitude in those days." As we study the historical strata we discover the fossil remains of extinct species of industry. The pots and kettles of the blast furnace are in the lower strata. Paper was made here long before our neighbor, the Paper City, existed. Leather cuttings for boots and shoes were made here, we find, in the past. Some claim the invention of lucifer matches for Chicopee. Some grant it to us; but the more conservative, considering that other places claim the honor, judge the invention to be a case of spontaneous combustion simultaneously at several points. At any rate, matches were made here, and Chicopee smokers could light home-grown tobacco with home-made matches. Somewhere are to be found relics of ship building. "This Day met at South Hadley a number of Gentlemen And entering into articles concluded on Building a Schooner at Chickapee." So wrote Deacon Edward Chapin 150 years ago. There is an extinct water traffic awaiting resurrection by the potent voice of Congress. Mention is made in the old Springfield records of a place where "Capt Gerson first made rosin at Chicopee river." One of the oldest industries not extinct is brick making. Deacon Chapin made bricks as early at least as 1751.
The leading industry to-day is cotton. It employs more people than any other single industry. A small mill equipped with two carding machines and two spinning frames of 48 spindles each was in operation here for a while over ninety years ago. The yarn was sent out to families to be woven on hand looms. The real cotton business began in 1825 at the Falls. Our two corporations are the successors of earlier ones. The Dwight is an early instance of combination, absorbing the Perkins and Cabot mills and uniting their factories to its own by building in between them, till now their mill presents a frontage but a few feet less than a third of a mile. One of the beautiful sights from the north side of the river is this long mill with its thousands of lights shining in the darkness. Mill No. 1 of the Chicopee Manufacturing Company, built in 1875 upon modern principles of mill construction, is one of the finest in the country. The products of these whirling spindles and flying shuttles seek the usual markets open to American cotton goods. The Dwight is trying the experiment of operating a mill in the South.
Fifty years ago mechanics and operatives in the mills worked twelve hours a day; and the average of men's wages was about $1.08 cents per day, and of women, $1.75 per week, exclusive of board. It cost as much to board a man as a woman received per week, while the women paid $1.37 1-2 on the average for their board.
Important to our city as is a business employing 2,700 or 2,800 people, our manufacturing body is not a monarchy ruled by King Cotton, but a republic in which other industrial interests have voice and power; and our fame as a manufacturing centre rests upon the many other products of our skilled labor. The Ames Manufacturing Company, founded by Nathan P. Ames in 1834, has given a great name in the manufacturing world to Chicopee. The list of its products is a long one. Before and during the Rebellion, implements of war were made,--swords, bayonets, cannon and projectiles. Tools for the manufacture of guns were produced and sent abroad. The British Board of Ordnance and the Royal Artillery Department of Spain received Chicopee products. And when the Chicopee boys went to battle for the nation's life, there were sabres made at home and purchased by the states of Virginia, Mississippi, Maryland and Georgia, as late as 1860, in the hands of Southern cavalry, to oppose them. Uncle Sam has sent to Chicopee when there was some dark spot on his coasts to be lighted and he needed a light-house, or when he needed a crane to lift some ponderous thing in a navy yard; and the Ames works have loyally responded. Were a thousand men to parade in the glory of the regalia of some mystic brotherhood, the Ames Sword Company could furnish all their outfit of plumed chapeaux and glittering sash and belt and gloves and gauntlets and streaming banners, and arm each one, if desired, with a sword of distinct patter, but of finest metal and unsurpassed workmanship.
Our bronze work has a national fame. The equestrian statue of Washington on the Boston Public Garden is one of several pieces at the state's capital cast here. What citizen of the Bay State, or of the country, does not have a thrill of pride, when he recalls the story of the Crawford doors at the nation's capital? The models were first sent abroad to a Munich firm, which, in the dark days of the Rebellion, demanded the deposit of the contract price. The government would not discredit its ability to pay by complying with such a demand, and ordered the models returned. They came back so shattered that it took a long time to repair them. The Ames Company undertook the work, and cast the doors, to the glory of Yankee patriotism and Yankee skill.
The man who successfully demonstrated that bronze work of a high character could be done in America was Mr. Silas Mosman, who superintended this department of the Ames works for many years. Bronze work is also done by Mr. Melzar Mosman, who was associated with his father. The largest piece sent from his workshop is the equestrian statue of General Grant in Lincoln Park, Chicago. He does work from the conception of the model as an artist to its reproduction in metal.
The lover of the bicycle is familiar with the name of Chicopee. The Overman, the Lamb, the Ames, and the Chicopee Falls are our four manufacturers of bicycles. The Overman Wheel Company and the Lamb Manufacturing Company have a world-wide reputation for their wheels. Frank Lenz, the first to attempt a trip across Asia on a bicycle, rode a Victor. He found no bicycle paths in China or Indian or Turkestan or Armenia. He was murdered when his remarkable journey was nearly completed.
The 25th United States Infantry Bicycle Corps, under Lieutenant James A. Moss, mounted Spalding military bicycles, and, carrying their arms, ammunition, rations, tents and other necessary equipment, rode from Fort Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, to test the practicability of the bicycle as a machine for military purposes. Nineteen hundred miles of travel over mountain ranges, through mud, water and sand and over rocks thoroughly tested the virtues of the new Chicopee warhorse.
Peace has her victories; and the plows of the Belcher & Taylor Agricultural Tool Company turn furrows in many fair fields in our own and foreign lands,--and its other agricultural implements have a like wide use. The knitting machines which one Chicopee firm makes another fits with their curiously crooked latch needles. Sportsmen shoot with the Stevens Arms Company's single-shot rifles in all climes, and some of the finest shooting with pistols has been done with Chicopee made weapons. Chicopee sporting goods are gaining a wide reputation. Englishmen and Scotchmen play golf with Chicopee equipment.
We turn from the factory to the greenhouse and recall the work of Dexter Snow, who was the second florist in Western Massachusetts and the first in Chicopee. He was known as the "Verbena man." He cultivated this flower, beginning in 1855, till he had one of the finest collections of it in the world. He also had a rare collection of ferns. Mr. Snow was a pioneer in sending plants by mail, and his verbenas, wrapped in oil of silk and packed in old cigar boxes, went by mail all over the country. An honorable and distinguished part in the history of Chicopee was borne by Hon. George M. Stearns and ex-Governor George D. Robinson. Against their names now
Each in his profession, the law, gained a high position, each filled a large place in the municipal life of the town as legal adviser and in other services, and a larger place in the affections of his fellow citizens. Besides these gifts to the bar, our city contributed to the judiciary of the Commonwealth an eminent member, the late Judge John Wells; and to the social discussions of the day her offerings are "Looking Backward" and "Equality," by Edward Bellamy.
Mr. Stearns came to Chicopee to study law. His sign still indicates his office over the Center post-office, but citizens miss the familiar site of him descending the stairs with letters in his hand for the mail. His home was on the Hill. Governor Robinson lived opposite. Mr. Stearns was a genial host, a delightful conversationalist, and possessed a large fund of stories and a keen sense of humor. He held few public offices. He served in both branches of the state legislature, but nominations to Congress were declined. He found recreation in driving and in reading. He loved a horse and like a novel.
Governor Robinson early in his life was called to Chicopee to teach, and for nine years was the successful principal of the Center high school. His interest in the schools continued through life. He planned engagements to admit attendance upon the reunions of the high school alumni. He left the school for the law office. He entered political life as representative to the legislature from Chicopee. When congressional and gubernatorial honors came, he never missed the town meeting, of which he was frequently moderator. Chicopee was fortunate in having such prominent citizens as Mr. Stearns and Governor Robinson interested in municipal matters. These two men, differing in many points of character, as well as in politics, had in common a great love of home. They equally loved Chicopee, and Chicopee equally loved them.
Edward Bellamy was born in Chicopee, and most of his life has been spent here. His home, an attractive place to the friends admitted to its intimacy, has been at the Falls. He was admitted to the bar of Hampden County, but his strong literary tastes drew him to other work. "A Nantucket Idyl" and Dr. Heidenhoff's Process" are not forgotten, although overshadowed by the popularity of his later works on social questions.
A national bank and two savings banks are our financial institutions. The First National came into existence under state law as the Cabot Bank, beginning business Mary 21, 1845. Several officers of this bank have checks with John Brown's name upon them. The Chicopee Savings Bank began business in 1854. It has had in these forty-four years but one treasurer, Mr. Henry A. Harris, who continuous service is a record that has few parallels.
What school privileges were given the boys and girls of Chicopee in the days of its first settlement we do not know. Springfield made a grant in 1714 "to the farmers of Chicopee and Skipmuch" for schools, and in 1716 three precincts for schools were established, "Upper Chickpee," "Lower Chickopee," and "Skipmuch." From this date regular appropriations were made. In 1761 a two-storied school house was built on Chicopee street. It had a great fireplace. The seats in the lower room were arranged around three of its sides, on one side in three rows, on the others in two rows, each row one step higher than that in front of it. The town has made liberal appropriations for its schools which have attained a high standard.
The City Library had its origin in Cabot Institute, a literary and social organization of long ago. The Chicopee papers of the time report the meetings and the questions for debate, among which is the following: "Will the increase of the manufacturing interests in New England tend to depress the condition of the laboring class?" The books, 900 in number, which the institute gathered, were transferred in 1853 to the town, and became the nucleus of the present library, which numbers 18,000 volumes. The library has had three homes, and needs another. The teachers, the scholars, the college girls, the clergymen and the general reading public are finding the library a source of increasing profit as they come to it with their varying needs.
Over twenty houses of worship open their doors in Chicopee, and eight denomination names tell our creedal diversities. A feature of the Grace Episcopal church is its parish house work. The equipment of this house includes accommodation for the ordinary social work of the parish and a gymnasium, baths, reading-room, pool tables and various games for men and boys. Girls also are using the gymnasium. Out-of-door sports receive attention--canoeing, foot-ball and base-ball. At Temperance Hall, the St. Joseph Total Abstinence and Benevolent Society, a Roman Catholic organization connected with the Church of the Holy Name, has its quarters, with an assembly room, parlors, reading and game rooms, a gymnasium, bath room and bowling alley.
In early days, the stage-coach, the ferries and the toll-bridge were features in Chicopee's means of travel. The locomotive engine began his race up and down the valley in 1845. Now we have the electric cars. The first street railway line was built in 1888, from Springfield via the Centre to Chicopee Falls. With the opening of the bridge at Willimansett (1892) the zeal for street railways waxed fervid. Men, women and children signed petitions to companies to build a line past their houses. Streets, avenues, and boulevards were marked out on the vast sandy plains. A forest of stakes shows where one speculator bought acres of land and divided it into house lots "far from the maddening crowd." Now we have three lines to Holyoke and as many to Springfield from various sections of the city.
The present population of Chicopee is about 18,000. Our valuation is a little over $9,000,000. The last considerable addition to our heterogeneous population are the Poles. They form a numerous part of the Babel chorus of tongues one hears on our streets. If their social status generally is not high, they are industrious and thrifty. Many read and write in their own language, and some of them have aspirations. They come to work in the cotton mills, and form a large per cent of their operatives. Their tenements are overcrowded. A Polish house is sure to be full. On the north side of the river at the Centre they are burrowing into the side-hills. They are gaining property; they are building homes and churches and establishing parochial schools, and some children are in the public schools. They are becoming voters, and the influences of their new surroundings will mould them, as they have other nationalities who have left the old world for the new.
The development of Chicopee has been in sections. The Centre, the Falls, Willimansett, Chicopee Street, Fairview, Aldenville are names of localities still presenting some distinct features and interests. Our letters come to four post-offices; our friends are confused by the various railway stations; our rogues have three lock-ups awaiting them. Yet we are growing together and attaining a strong feeling of municipal unity.
The sections whose growth has been most noticeable of late are Willimansett, Fairview and Aldenville. At Aldenville we have a creation of recent years. Its growth is interesting as an illustration of home-making for working people. This section was opened in 1891. The building lots are of good size, varying in price from $50 upwards. The first dwellings consisted (chiefly) of an outside; the inside came because the frame was boarded and shingled. The interior finishings were meagre in most cases, the aim being to keep the first cost of the house small. Payment was made by monthly installments of $10 or more. These houses have had a development--cellars, interior finishings, paint, perhaps a piazza--till the original is scarcely recognized in the trim and comfortable home of to-day. The electric cars, the school and the church have also come.
Our city is situated in one of the most beautiful sections of the Connecticut Valley. From many points we have views of Tom and Holyoke on the north, and to the west the hills of western Hampden, while perhaps from the same spot the sweep of the majestic river may be seen with glimpses of Wilbraham hills on the east. We have facilities for the manufacturer and the skilled workman. We also have a fair city for their home, and easy communication with the larger cities and the great world beyond.
SOURCE: The City of Chicopee, by Collins G. Burnham: pp. 361-379 p. 377; The New England magazine, Vol 24, Iss. 3, Published by New England Magazine Co., May 1898
Retyped and reformatted by Kathy Leigh, April, 2001